Cam really did believe that Jackson was still alive. He hadn't just said that in an attempt to duck out of an unpleasant duty; he'd read the man's file, after all, and witnessed him pull more than one rabbit out of a hat since they'd started working together. He wasn't the only one who had faith in Jackson, either; four out of five former SG-1 members agreed with him, and if it was good enough for them, it should also have been good enough for General Landry.
Seriously, what sense would it have made for Adria to kill such a valuable captive, once she finally had him in her grabby little Orici hands? Jackson had the schematics for a weapon that could kill the Ancients floating around in his overclocked mind, plus whatever other goodies Merlin might have given him; the Ori's chosen avatar should be all over those secrets like stink on manure, and there was no way to get that kind of data out of a dead guy.
Ergo, he had to be alive. Granted, it might not be pleasant to be him at the moment, but-- he should still be in one piece. Just a little out of reach, at the moment.
Logic wasn't proof, though. Neither was instinct; and Landry didn't run things like O'Neill or Hammond had, allowing generous days or weeks (or even months, in one reported summer-long instance) to pass while particularly luck-blessed members of SG-1 were trapped off-world in uncertain circumstances. No; instead he'd sent one Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell-- ostensibly team leader of the herd of cats collectively known as SG-1, in practice more like their apprentice slash babysitter-- to tell his teammate's girlfriend the Energizer Archaeologist had gone missing in action.
He was not looking forward to it, and for more reasons than just because he hoped (expected, believed) Jackson would be back before they knew it, and all the trouble and worry he was about to put the young woman through would turn out to be a waste. For one thing, she didn't have the clearance to know any more than the vaguest cover story regarding the program, so Cam's explanation would have to be a little light on convincing details. And for another-- well.
He'd ask what the hell a woman like that saw in Dr. Daniel Jackson, if he hadn't already seen (and read about) the reaction every dangerous female ever to cross the man's path seemed to have to him: they all wanted to have his babies. All of them. Metaphorically in some cases, more literally in others. And given the roster, Cam really didn't want to know what exactly the draw was. They ranged from Goa'uld Queens to princesses to mass murderesses to Ascended demi-deities and career con artists; whatever Jackson's secret might be, Cam's life was more than interesting enough as it was.
At least Buffy Summers had the benefit of being human, and Jackson had met her outside of the Program, Cam knew; it could have been worse. Jackson had said something about running into her in a library the girl's father figure was in charge of over in England, and spending time together on the long plane ride back to the States, exchanging phone numbers and whatnot. He'd gone on to claim they'd actually bonded over a discussion of Celtic myths, of all things; if it had been anyone else spinning that line, Cam would never have bought it. Who knew with Jackson, though. The first time he'd met her at a barbeque at O'Neill's after Vala's little amnesiac adventure, he'd taken one look at the girl-- at her stance, her reflexes and the self-aware shadows behind her bright beauty queen smile-- and exchanged a very skeptical glance with the former black ops general. Definitely more to her than met the eye.
Her background check had come up clear of any current ties to the NID or foreign military operations, though, and O'Neill had assured him that even if she was somebody's intelligence asset, her target would not be Jackson or anyone else at the SGC. He'd received a very pointed warning-off from an unnamed, highly placed source that may or may not have once gone by the title, 'Mr. President', so for the time being Cam was taking him at his word. Still, she was something deadly, unless Cam's instincts were sadly malfunctioning... and he knew without a shadow of a doubt that she was not going to take his story lying down.
Cam cleared his throat, then finally lifted his hand to knock, aware that he'd been standing on the front stoop of her house in Cleveland for more than long enough to look like an idiot. Time to get it over with.
The door opened to reveal a young woman in jeans with long brown hair and intelligent blue eyes. Cam recognized her from the picture of Summers and her sister that Jackson had recently installed on his shelf, a couple rows down from the security clip of Sha'uri. He'd observed at the time, quirking an amused smile, that the girl looked more like Jackson than she did her short, blonde sister; the effect was even more pronounced in person, right down to the alarmed furrow of her brow and the disgruntled curve of her lips.
"You're Buffy's boyfriend's boss," she said flatly, one hand on the back of the door and the other propped on her hip where she stood blocking the gap.
"Yes'm," Cam told her, automatically adjusting his stance as he would to face a potentially hostile, but necessary ally. "And you'd be her sister Dawn? You're just as pretty as your picture."
She rolled her eyes at his attempt at charm, then stepped back, opening the door further. "I'll let my sister know you're here," she replied, blatantly not inviting him to step inside.
He'd have taken it for further rudeness, but her sister had done the same thing to him before, and Jackson had been very blasé about it. Something about cultural differences-- though Cam had never thought of California as that foreign a place. His grandma would have whopped him a good one if he'd ever treated guests like that. He sighed, then walked into the entry room, watching Dawn watch him suspiciously back as she shut the door and headed for the stairs to the second floor.
"Buffy, visitor! It's that Colonel guy Daniel works with!" she called.
"What?" A startled voice filtered down, followed by a suspicious silence; Cam took a deep breath as he removed his cover, and hoped that the presence of Ms. Summer's non-combatant sister would mitigate the conversation they were about to have, at least a little bit.
Her shoes appeared in his line of vision first; not the strappy little spike-heeled things he usually saw her in, but sturdy, fashionable yet practical stacked boots, followed by jeans, a low-cut dark blouse, and an updone hairdo that did not distract from her watchful green eyes and pensive frown.
"Colonel Mitchell," she said, as she reached the ground floor. "What brings you here... in uniform... without Daniel?" Her eyes flicked to the door, then back again, her mouth set in a worried line.
Yeah, she'd already guessed, Cam could tell. This was not going to be pleasant.
He could still remember the first thing Jackson had ever said to him about her. It had been months ago, just after Jackson's return from his research trip, but before Cam's 200th trip through the Stargate; General O'Neill had sneakily scheduled that thing with the alien producer, Martin Lloyd, to distract them from the party planning, and Cam had gone to fetch Jackson when he'd been late for the meeting. He'd found the archaeologist holed up in his lab, but not absorbed in his relics or his books as usual; he'd been staring at his computer instead, a soft little smile on his face that made him look years younger.
"Must be a pretty important email," Cam had remarked. "C'mon, we're late."
"I'm-- actually not sure yet," Jackson had replied, tearing his eyes away from the screen with obvious reluctance. "The medieval scholar I met in England found a reference in his library after I'd left, one that might or might not have some bearing on our search for the Grail."
"And that made you smile like that?" Cam had teased him. "Might have known you'd only get that googly-eyed over a book."
Jackson had snorted in disdain at the comment, but the little smile had made a reappearance; an obvious tell, given how worn and bitter he'd generally been on the job since the Ori war had heated up. "Oh, that's-- ah, he's sending his foster daughter to deliver it in person. I've talked with her a few times; she's-- well, she's an interesting person."
Cam's eyebrows had flown up at that, both at the phrasing and the use of present tense to refer to the woman. He'd deliberately leaned back out in the corridor and glanced both ways, then turned back to Jackson to say in a false whisper, "Better not say that around Vala. She catches that look in your eyes about some other woman? This girl of yours won't know what hit her."
Jackson had taken the half-joking comment more seriously than Cam had meant it, though, smile sliding into a wry, pensive expression. "I don't know; somehow, I get the feeling Buffy could give her a run for her money."
And boy howdy, had she. How a surf-and-sunshine California cheerleader type could successfully outsnark, outmaneuver, and even outfight (in a hand-to-hand 'demonstration' at O'Neill's that Cam desperately wished he'd caught on camera) a former Goa'uld host with decades of criminal experience, and then expect everyone else to buy the frothy image she affected, Cam had no clue. Not only that, Summers had wormed her way right into the heart of one of the most emotionally barricaded men Cam had ever met after just a few months' worth of long-distance dating. She might be young, and she might have the most ridiculous name he'd ever had to say out loud, but in no universe could she ever pass for harmless.
Best to just come right out and tell her. "He went missing in action two days ago," he said, plainly, not flinching away from Summers' intent gaze.
She swallowed, hand dropping to the newel post at the base of the stairs, but she didn't look surprised. "And you can't tell me where or why," she said, matter-of-factly.
"It's classified," he apologized. "I'm sorry. But I want you to know that we have every reason to believe he's still alive, and that we'll get him back in one piece."
Summers nodded at that, but still didn't react in any way Cam had expected; rather than upset, she seemed-- resigned, that was really the only word for it. As though she'd hoped he wouldn't come, but expected it, all the same. She threw a speaking glance at her sister, and Dawn bit her lip, nodding back.
"Favored of Merlin, freed from the Demon Queen's snare," Dawn said in response, the words strangely measured as though she was reading them from a poem.
"So you must be Galahad Secundus, he who vanquishéd Ba'al?" Summers said, trying for light-hearted as she turned back to Cam. "Huh. Gotta say, I didn't see that coming; I had Murray picked out as the god-killer of your bunch, or maybe General O'Neill."
"Excuse me?" Cam stared at her, feigning complete bafflement-- which actually wasn't all that much of an act. He was surprised, not only by the words they'd used, but by the casual way they'd said them; how could either Summers girl have known those references?
Merlin had actually referred to Cam as Percival and named Jackson Galahad, but Cam had done a little research into the Grail myths himself since SG-1 had taken up a starring role in their own repeat edition of the legends, and Summers' choice of role was thematically more accurate. Whatever they looked like, Percival and Galahad had both been part of a story detailing a successful Quest to retrieve the Sangreal-- but only Galahad had been led by King Arthur to retrieve a very special sword. Unlike the one in the Disney movie that had proclaimed its retriever King of England, the legend on Galahad's sword had read, 'Never shall man take me hence but only he by whose side I ought to hang; and he shall be the best knight of the world.'
Cam didn't know about that; he certainly wouldn't count himself the best soldier on Earth. And neither he nor Jackson could exactly be called 'pure', which was supposed to be a defining characteristic of the Grail knights; so Cam supposed he had only himself to blame that his strength was not 'as the strength of ten'. But he was on a Quest to find the real Sangreal, and he had drawn a sword from a stone, something no other living Tau'ri could claim. If that didn't put him in the running for the second coming of Galahad, he didn't know what would.
Summers should know nothing about that, though. He didn't think Jackson would have spilled confidential details; the guy could get mouthy off-world, or even on-world when he thought it would serve the greater good for someone to catch a classified clue, but in no universe would he have found it appropriate to spill the beans to his out-project girlfriend. He certainly wouldn't have told her that Cam would somehow be the one to finish off the multiplicitous System Lord, if she'd even known enough to differentiate the Goa'uld named Ba'al from the deity in all the textbooks, which wasn't clear. Regardless, Summers was, as he'd thought all along, much more than she pretended to be.
"Don't play dumb with me," she said, echoing his thoughts, her smile souring. "You know what we're talking about. You're here because someone took Daniel, and you're pretty much looking at an apocalypse no matter what happens next."
Her words were almost clipped enough to obscure the faint tremor in her voice beneath them. Cam took a deep breath, trying to decide whether to deny everything; then decided to hell with it, he needed to know how she knew-- and if she knew something they didn't.
"You want to tell me how you know about Merlin? Or Ba'al?" he asked, voice gone quiet and intent.
Summers narrowed her eyes a little in response. "You don't think Daniel told me?" she asked.
"No," he said, shaking his head. "I know Jackson better than that. And so do you. There's no point in posturing at each other while he's in danger; we can have that throw-down later. In the meantime, what exactly do you know?"
She frowned a moment longer, assessing him back, then threw another skeptical glance at her sister. "You see, there's this prophecy," she said, warily.
Cam felt his jaw drop. He'd heard O'Neill's rant on the subject before; the only two times SG-1 had ever come across legit evidence of prescience had also been Ancient-related, one the result of genetic manipulation by a Goa'uld using Ancient tech and the other a series of messages left behind by an Ancient time traveler. It made complete sense that one of the officious glowhards would have set up an obscure secondary message relay rather than risk being directly associated with Merlin's little project.
Well, at least they had some help; it was better than nothing. "Damn it, Jackson," he muttered, scrubbing a hand over his face, then gestured to Summers. "Okay. Prophecy. Got it. Go on."
He was gratified to see her eyes widen a little at that. Blonde eyebrows arched high as she took in his reaction. "...Just, 'go on'? That's all you have to say?" she prodded.
"I've seen stranger things in my time," Cam replied, "mostly since I met Jackson. And if you know how to get him back? I'm not going to cut off my nose to spite my face. So, what's it say?"
Arms crossed, Summers tapped one toe absently against the floor. Then she closed her eyes, let go a long breath, and began to quote from memory.
"Favored of Merlin, freed from the Demon Queen's snare," she said, repeating Dawn's earlier comment. Then she continued, in cadenced, almost mournful tones:
"Now face thee a choice of sacrifice most grievous.
Vanquish thy enemy, and thy peoples shall burn;
Or seek Aurora's gift. Angels and demons both
Shall fall under her pitiless touch. Mortals saved,
And heav'n laid waste; or mark hell's end with ash and blood.
Choose thy forfeit with care. But choose, or wholly fail."
Cam swallowed as he listened to the ominous snatch of rhyme, feeling the hair stand up on the backs of his arms. "That... doesn't sound very encouraging," he said. Demons for Ori, he got that connection well enough; by process of elimination, that meant the Ascended Alterans had to be what the poet meant by angels. Not the best analogy, in his not so humble opinion; but the thing had obviously been written in an older era, and how else would a writer back then describe an incorporeal being of light? He didn't get how choosing to kill only the Ori would wind up causing more human deaths, or why anyone, knowing the consequences, would choose otherwise-- but he also knew it wouldn't be as simple as those few lines had made it sound. Otherwise, why set down the prophecy in the first place? Especially since it had to have been one of those very 'angels' who had commissioned it. And another thing--
"Who's Aurora?" he added, furrowing his brow. "And what kind of gift are we talking about here?"
Another glance passed between the sisters. "It's... an artefact we have in our possession," the elder Summers said, slowly. "This so isn't the time for the long version, so you'll just have to believe me when I tell you we're fighting a secret war of our own, against opponents the rest of the world has never heard of. There's a certain amount of crossover, though; that's how I met Daniel in the first place. And when I realized what the prophecy was saying...." She trailed off, face crumpling in distress.
Dawn cleared her throat, drawing Cam's attention away from her sister. "It has to do with portals," she said. "We can't be more specific than that without knowing exactly who these angels and demons are, where they are, and what exactly Daniel's involved with that will give him the power to make a choice that big. But-- Aurora's gift can poke through either space or dimensional walls or both, provided you know exactly what you're aiming at. The problem is, whatever's on both sides? Will kind of bleed into each other as long as the portal's open; it's not a one-way thing, and it's not easy to control."
Unlike a wormhole, the random thought passed through Cam's mind; though he still didn't see what portals had to do with the Sangreal, beyond the obvious-- bringing Jackson home.
"Is this-- gift-- something you'd be willing loan us?" he said slowly.
"Willing? Duh. But able? Not by itself. We kind of have to go with it," Dawn said, apologetically. "Like I said: not so easy to control."
He sighed, working the implications out in his mind. If they hadn't told Daniel about any of this, there must've been a reason; and it probably wasn't anything simple, like a new control crystal they could just plug into the Gate and forget about. The General would kill him if he brought Daniel's girlfriend and her sister in without warning. But then-- SG-1 had moved on weaker evidence before, taking actions that had proved to be utterly necessary in hindsight. Spirit of the law before the letter of it, slippery slope and all.
"I don't suppose you could let me see it first?" he asked, already resigned to the answer.
Summers spoke up again, laying a hand on her sister's arm. "I'm sorry, Colonel Mitchell. Like I said, we have our own war, and even bringing it out for you to see? Would be like ringing a dinner bell for our enemies. Stopping an apocalypse is one thing, but it'll have to stay secret until then."
"We can show you the prophecies, though!" Dawn hastened to say in the face of Cam's disappointed grimace. "At least they're in mostly chronological order; you should be able to match up the stuff that happened before Daniel's capture. We couldn't make heads or tails of a lot of it-- wading through the all metaphors is a real pain in the butt if you don't know the context-- but you should be able to figure most of it out."
"You do realize that if you're wrong about this, or trying to scam me--" he began, for form's sake.
"Yeah, yeah, the white-hot fury of a thousand fiery suns," Dawn cut him off, dismissively.
"Dawn!" Summers drew in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "Colonel-- this is for Daniel." She gestured, helplessly. "I gave him my phone number before I had any idea he was connected to the prophecies; I haven't been dating him under false pretences."
"I never suggested you were," he replied. It had never even occurred to him, really; though he was still as wary of her as of a well-aimed whipstrike, she was about as subtle as one, too. He didn't doubt her distress was genuine. "What does bother me is that you never told him any of this."
She hugged her arms around herself at that, and gave him a faint smile. "I did, though. I gave him the book; he's read it. But I couldn't tell him it was more than just another collection of Grail poetry without telling him everything. You know what he's like when he's looking for answers, and not all my secrets are totally mine to tell. If he'd made it to Christmas...." She turned away, looking toward one of the windows, green eyes shimmering with moisture.
"Giles would totally freak if she spilled her secret identity again just 'cause she got groiny with someone," Dawn pointed out, drawing Cam's attention away from her sister again. "There's a reason she has decoys in Europe now. Besides, it's not like he told us his secrets, either."
Cam nodded warily, though he found the mention of 'decoys' more alarming than her use of the word 'groiny'. Still, it was useful to know they weren't operating alone; if they had a Landry of their own to answer to, they probably weren't lying about their war, or their reasons.
"I can't promise you anything," he said. "And I can't take you back with me today. But I'll talk to General Landry about getting you VIP passes; it's likely he'll allow it-- if I can show him you have good reason. I know that's not what you want to hear, but you said your prophecy doesn't activate 'til Daniel comes home, so we should still have some time."
"Until he's freed, not necessarily home," Summers replied, worriedly. But she turned back away from the window, nodding acquiescence. "I can deal, though, if you promise to call us if he shows up before then. Strike that; call Dawn. She can-- she knows where to find Aurora's gift, if I'm out of touch."
Dawn had turned and scooted up the stairs when Cam mentioned needing proof; she thundered back down them again as her sister mentioned her name, her expression tense with some emotion he couldn't name. She held a dusty old tome out to him, and he took it, carefully tucking it under his arm.
"We've scanned it, but I'd appreciate it if you'd scan it, too, and then send back the original," she said, fingers curling into her palms as though she hadn't wanted to let go.
Cam was struck again by the fact that she reminded him of Daniel as much as her sister, and nodded. He knew how the archaeologist could get about his texts. All the same, Cam appreciated that they were letting him take the actual book-- which the SGC could test for authenticity-- rather than forwarding copies of the text. "I will. I promise." Then he turned to Summers again, at a bit of a loss for what else to say to her. This hadn't exactly gone anything like he'd been expecting. "Ma'am. I really do believe he's okay; she's got every incentive to keep him sane and in one piece."
"Thank you," she replied, then quirked a smile at him. "And-- thank you for believing me."
"Do I want to ask what you'd have done if I hadn't?" Cam asked wryly, extending a hand to shake.
Summers chuckled a little, then disdained the hand and pulled him into a tight, quick press of a hug. "I can see we're going to get along just fine," she said.
'Fine' wasn't exactly the word Cam would have chosen. But-- yeah, he hoped so, too.